Admirers of 18th century abolitionist William Wilberforce remembered him Monday – the 250th anniversary of his birth date – by reflecting on his life and carrying on the British statemen’s call for the end of slavery.
At the Wilberforce House Museum in Hull, Yorkshire, where Wilberforce was born, a ceremony was held to celebrate Wilberforce’s life and started with one of his most famous speeches, which proclaimed the slave trade as “an abhorrent trade.”
“I shall not rest until I have affected its abolition,” Hull-born actor Chris Cade stated Monday in redelivering Wilberforce’s speech, according to the local paper.
Although Wilberforce was a prolific philanthropist, establishing 69 philanthropies during his lifetime, he is best known for leading an 18-year fight for the abolition of the British Empire’s slave trade, which legally ended in 1807 in England and 1808 in the United States.
He also spearheaded efforts to set up education for indigent children, child labor laws, prison reform, the first society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, Bible societies, and mandatory small pox inoculation, among many others.
“To speak of Wilberforce is to speak of biblical worldview in action,” commented U.S. evangelical leader Chuck Colson, who said Wilberforce’s legacy “so profoundly shaped” his life.
“He could not stand idly by and see the imago Dei of each person, the image of God, abused. His fiercely unpopular crusade against the slave trade ravaged his health and cost him politically,” Colson recalled.
Even when the merely unpopular position became a dangerous one after the French Revolution began, Wilberforce persevered year after year.
“He did a magnificent thing,” Home Secretary and West Hull and Hessle MP Alan Johnson told the Hull Daily Mail.
Notably, however, while Wilberforce may have helped put an end to the British slave trade, slavery still exists today in various forms.
According to a 2005 estimate by the International Labour Organization (ILO), there at least 12.3 million individuals in the world today who are forced to work against their will under the threat of some form of punishment. Even in the United Kingdom, thousands are trapped in forced prostitution or working without pay in farms, factories and homes, including at least 5,000 child sex workers, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
“[W]hile slavery is a very different problem today, it nevertheless exists," Johnson commented.
On Monday, the 100,000th signature was added to a Hull-led petition to stop slavery, including child labor, forced prostitution and human trafficking.
The petition, launched in September 2007 to mark the bicentenary of the passing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, has been circulated to people throughout the world.
In it, signers "urge governments and international bodies to work together to better understand the Transatlantic Slave Trade, address its impact on countries and communities around the world, and work to end slavery for all time."
The petition has drawn support from a number of prominent figures including U.S. civil rights campaigner Jesse Jackson and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.